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Facial Recognition Technology Threatens to End All Individual Privacy

Apple has been using facial recognition software as a security option on the iPhone X since 2017. Amazon has given its facial recognition system to police departments to try out. Microsoft claims it has resisted requests to sell its products to police and has called for government regulation. Axon, the largest maker of body camera in the United States, has taken out patents for facial recognition applications. New applications are announced daily.

Recently, the Department of Homeland Security announced its plan to use facial recognition software on 97 percent of departing air passengers by 2023. President Trump signed an executive order speeding up the use of facial recognition identification for “100 percent of all international passengers” in the top airports by 2021. Source.

Privacy advocates have raised serious civil rights concerns around facial recognition software. Currently, there are no laws regulating the use of facial recognition technology in the United States.

Crime Fighting

After 9/11, law enforcement used grainy images of hijackers in the airports on the morning of the assault. It took authorities weeks to identify the attackers. Unable to close the matter on its own, the FBI released 19 photos with possible names and aliases seeking help from the public.

Today, law enforcement could have identified the hijackers within three minutes using facial recognition software. Source.

A six month test of the use of facial recognition software in a robbery investigation unit found that it lowered the time to identify a suspect from an image from 30 days to three minutes.

In New York City, detectives have requested 7,024 facial recognition searches that resulted in 1,851 possible matches and 998 arrests.

Assault on Privacy Rights

Facial recognition is the perfect tool for oppression. It enables abusive and corrosive activities. It has a disproportionate impact on people of color and minorities. Due process is harmed because it shifts the ideal from “presumed innocent” to “people have not been found guilty of crime, yet.” It increases harassment and violence. It denies fundamental rights and opportunities (tracking one’s movements, habits, relationships, interests, and thoughts). It prohibits the average citizen from walking the streets in obscurity. It amplifies the money making market for facial recognition surveillance.

Professors Woodrow Hartzog and Evan Selinger state that “facial recognition technology is the most uniquely dangerous surveillance mechanism ever invented. Surveillance conducted with facial recognition systems is intrinsically oppressive. The mere existence of facial recognition systems, often invisible, harms civil liberties, because people will act differently if they are suspected they are being surveilled.” Source.

Clare Garvie, an associate with Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology, sounds the alarm on the use of facial recognition by law enforcement: “What happens if a system like this gets it wrong? A mistake by a video-based surveillance system may mean an innocent person is followed, investigated, and maybe even arrested and charged for a crime he or she didn’t commit. A mistake by a face-scanning surveillance system on a body camera could be lethal. An officer, alerted to a potential threat to public safety or to himself, must, in an instant, decide whether to draw his weapon. A false alert places an innocent person in those crosshairs.” Source.

In order to find a criminal, everyone has to be scanned. That data has to go somewhere. The companies that provide this technology are not obligated to let you know they are collecting and storing it–and possibly selling it to third parties.

We will monitor law enforcement in Southwest Missouri for use of facial recognition surveillance. If lawmakers do not take action on facial recognition surveillance, the privacy battle over the proper use and scope will play out on the streets instead of the courts.